Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Bridge Project 2010, Part 1

As You Like It

A play by William Shakespeare

Directed by Sam Mendes

Starring Ashlie Atkinson, Michelle Beck, Christian Camargo, Stephen Dillane, Alvin Epstein, Juliet Rylance, Thomas Sadoski, Michael Thomas

Performances through March 13, 2010

BAM Harvey Theater--651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn


In Sam Mendes’ staging of As You Like It at BAM, Juliet Rylance’s Rosalind is rightly the focus, although she doesn’t emphasize the gawky femininity of Shakespeare’s wittiest female character, even in her gender-bending disguise, as a ravishing Rebecca Hall did in her father Peter’s 2003 production (which also played BAM).

Rylance speaks Shakespeare’s poetry as if to the manner born, which is no surprise since her father Mark is also a Shakespearean veteran. When she becomes the boy Ganymede in the Forest of Arden, the actress delights in parsing the ironies of Rosalind pretending to be Ganymede pretending to be Rosalind for the sake of Orlando, the young gentleman who falls in love with her at first sight.

Mendes’ cogent direction drives the play’s substantial wit forward rather than overwhelming it with needless diversions: even the signs if winter that he favors throughout the production are less distracting than illuminating the many characters’ eventual romantic thaws. Though more than three hours, this As You Like It flies by effortlessly, and aside from one awful performance, the highly touted Bridge Project ensemble of British and American actors works harmoniously.

Of the Brits, Stephen Dillane—who later this month plays Prospero in the Bridge Project’s The Tempest—is a devastatingly funny Jaques, the melancholy lord who wanders in and out of the play at will as he wittily philosophizes, e.g., the famous “Seven Ages of Man” speech. Of actors doing double duty, Michael Thomas is both a strongly villainous Duke Frederick—who banishes his niece Rosalind and allows his daughter Celia and clown Touchstone to leave with her—and a gentle, goodhearted Duke Senior, Frederick’s brother and Rosalind’s father, who was exiled to Arden with his court.

On the Yanks’ side, there’s slightly less harmony. As Orlando, Christian Camargo physically fills the bill and speaks well, but his one-dimensional manner renders him dull. Alvin Epstein easily bounces between Orlando’s faithful servant Adam and the buffoonish Sir Oliver Martext, but Ashlie Atkinson makes a disastrous Phoebe, mercilessly mugging like no one else onstage does. Happily, Thomas Sadoski’s Touchstone is a fully realized comic creation: it’s heartening that a Shakespearean clown clowns around as Shakespeare wrote the part, not as a director and actor hope audiences will split their sides over.

Paul Pyant’s magisterial lighting, Tom Piper’s evocative set and Catherine Zuber’s genial costumes cleverly convey the gradual shift from wintry to summery states, both physical and emotional. Mark Bennett’s music, although well-performed and decently-sung, is nowhere near as memorable as, say, William Walton’s extraordinary orchestral accompaniment. Mendes’ first three Bridge Project productions, while flawed, are nonetheless heartily welcomed. I look forward to his upcoming Tempest.

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